Women as religious leaders:
priestesses, pastors, ministers, rabbis...
A note about sexism:
In this section we use the terms "sexist" and "sexism" which we define as
"discrimination against a person based on their gender rather than their
individual merits." A synonym of "sexism" is "gender discrimination."
We use this term in connection with the denial of ordination of female clergy
because it fits perfectly. A woman may have all of the personality traits,
abilities, knowledge, commitment, and a sense of being called by God to the
clergy, but be denied ordination by a sexist religious organization because of
There are many different forms of discrimination. The main ones currently
active in North America are:
Racism: unequal treatment because of race;
Sexism: unequal treatment because of gender;
Homophobia: unequal treatment because of sexual orientation;
Religism: unequal treatment because of religion; 1
Xenophobia: unequal treatment because of nationality
Many sincere, deeply devout people object to being referred to as racists,
sexists homophobes, etc. They generally point to passages in their holy texts --
the Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Scriptures, Qur'an, etc. -- which they
interpret as requiring them to discriminate against others. However,
discrimination against others based on a holy text is still discrimination.
Further, it is a violation of a major theme that permeates all holy texts and
religions: the theory of reciprocity -- often called
the Golden Rule.
The feminist movement has raised the public's consciousness about the
unfairness of gender discrimination. Modern-day secular society has responded by eliminating sexism in employment,
education, accommodation, etc. A large portion of the public has
accepted that women should be given the same career opportunities that men have
It is obvious that, early in the 21st
century, the largest institutions in North America that continue to deny equal rights to women are conservative Christian denominations:
Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and many denominations within Protestantism,
like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Southern
These groups interpret Bible passages as requiring women and men to follow defined,
sexually determined roles. In opposite-sex marriage, for example, men are to
lead and women are expected to be submissive to their husbands. In religion institutions women are not to be placed in a
position of authority over men. A logical result of these beliefs is that women
are not to be considered for ordination. There is no wiggle room here, unless
their theologians follow more liberal Christian theologians and take a different approach to biblical interpretation.
appears to becoming as abhorrent to the public as racism. Conservative denominations may well be under increasing
pressure to conform to the non-sexist standard found in liberal faith groups and
secular groups. Faith groups will be
expected to evaluate candidates
for ordination on the basis of the candidates knowledge, sense of calling from God, personality, commitment,
ability, etc -- but not on the basis of gender. Gender discrimination will
be viewed by many as a millstone around the necks of conservative denominations.
It will present a
serious barrier to the evangelization of non-Christians. Whenever religious institutions
are perceived by the general public as operating to a lower ethical standard than the rest of
society, religious conversion becomes increasingly difficult to achieve.
E. Behr-Sigel, "The Ministry of Women in the Church," Oakwood Publ.,
this book An analysis by an Orthodox theologian.
J. Chapman, "Last Bastion: Women Priests; the Case for and Against,"
Heinemann, (1989) Order this
M. Chaves, "Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in religious Organizations,"
Harvard Univ. Press, (1997). Review/order
this book The author "discovers that groups having strong
sacramentalist or strong fundamentalist beliefs are the most likely to use restrictive
views of women’s roles in the church as a protest against modernism and liberalism."
K.K. FitzGerald, "Women Deacons in the Orthodox church: Called to Holiness and
Ministry," Holy Cross Press (1998). Order this
R.T. France, "Women in the Church's Ministry: A Test-Case for Biblical
Interpretation," Eerdmans Publ., (1997). Review/order
S.J. Grenz & D.M. Kjesbo, "Women in the Church: a Biblical Theology of
Women in Minstry," Intervarsity Press, (1995)
A.F. Ide, "God's Girls: Ordination of Women in the Early Christian and Gnostic
Churches," Tanglewould Press, (1986). Order this
J.G. Melton, "Women's Ordination: Official Statement from Religious Bodies and
Ecumenical Organizations," Gale Research, (1990) Order this
E.P. Mitchell, Ed., "Women: To Preach or not to Preach; 21 Outstanding Black
Preachers say Yes," Judson Press, (1991). Review/order
P.S. Nadell, "Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination,
1989-1985," Beacon Press, (1998). Review/order
VIDEO: "Women's Ordination: the Hidden Tradition,"
is a 58 minute British videotape of the history of women's ordination in Christianity. It
"investigates Church history which suggests that the evidence of history is not
as clear-cut as it might appear. For it would seem that in the fifth century, Pope
Gelasius I sent a letter to the bishops of Southern Italy instructing them to stop
ordaining women." It is now available in the U.S. from:
Call Reel Spirit Productions at (281) 376-6229
"Religism" is a word that is not yet found in dictionaries, but is badly needed. There
are words in the English language that refer to many forms of bigotry, hatred,
and/or a desire to limit the civil rights of people on the basis of their religion, race (racism),
sexual orientation (homophobia),
gender identity (transphobia), nationality (xenophobia),
etc. But we have no single word that refers to bigotry, discrimination and/or exclusion based of religion. Yet religious
bigotry and hatred may be the most serious threat to the survival of humanity in
the 21st century. The word "Religism" seems to be catching on: On 2006-MAY-07, Google found
54 hits for the word. By 2008-JAN-01, there were 345. By 2010-OCT-03, there were 1,510. By 2012-OCT-10, 6,100. Sadly, on 2015-JAN-31, we found 3,330.